This article is written in cooperation with Jeff Marian, Lead Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN. Jeff has a clear passion to involve Emerging Adults at all levels of church leadership. Jeff does not believe that age should be obstacle for leadership within the church. Although not EAs, his church currently has two leaders (at the highest level) who are in their 30’s, and they are actively looking for more.
Why did you start recruiting EA’s to lead at your church?
Our church needed transition because our church community was aging. Mark 2:22 says, “And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. For the wine would burst the wineskins, and the wine and the skins would both be lost. New wine calls for new wineskins.” Our church was in need of new wineskins in order to bring change to our community.
Our church needed to reach EA’s, and didn’t know how. In order to reach different people, we needed to make some changes. When we tried to reach EA’s without their input, it felt as if the church was an airplane in the fog without instrumentation. We saw things only from our limited perspective of those in the room. EA’s are the eyes, ears, and the heart of the future. Without them, we were flying blind. As a church, we decided to stop making assumptions about EAs, and start asking them directly.
How did you see it profit EA’s?
Young leaders lack life experience, but that should not disqualify them from leadership. Leadership gives them this experience. Placing them into leadership has exposed them to the wisdom of those who are older. It has forced the emerging adult’s ideal world to meet the real world. When their passion and idealism collides with reality, maturation occurs.
Do you see any dangers in having young leadership?
There is always danger in the extremes. Good church leadership requires a balance of voices, and not just one age group. Younger leaders are willing to make and lead change. Those in the second half of their spirituality are able to discern the baby from the bathwater. A balance of the two helps us protect the church, and keep it healthy and relevant (Jeff referenced the book Falling Upward by Richard Rohr.).
How did you see it profit your community?
EA’s becomes advocates for their generation. Many times, I don’t understand the issues they are facing. I am warped as a baby-boomer, and we need them to see the world how they see it. When I am an advocate for EA’s, it doesn’t carry the same weight as when they speak for themselves. People in the congregation look at them and see someone who reminds them of their child, or their grandchild. This invokes a sense of responsibility and hop in older adults to lead well for the future. When EA’s stand up to lead, they are a living symbol of the future.
EA’s have a passion for Kingdom Work, and their passion spreads. They want to be involved outside the walls of the church. Placing them in leadership gives them the visibility to make their passion truly contagious to the entire body of Christ.
EA’s have the influence over the other young leaders. Not because they force peers to do something, but because of the power of community.
EA’s have grown up knowing that America is not Christendom. Many in our church still don’t understand that, but they are slowly teaching us how to be a light in a diverse society.
What obstacles did you face?
Older people want EA’s to speak up and have a voice. Obstacles only appear when they are given equal or more weight and value than those who are paying the bills. It is difficult for any generation to look beyond what feeds my generation, and to look ahead to the next.
How do you go about the process of recruiting EA’s?
Our leadership knew that there was capable young leadership in the congregation. We just had to identify and recruit them. Once we identified some leaders, we started personally recruiting them. This week, I had lunch with an EA, and asked him to step up into leadership. His father had been in leadership for many years in our community, and I challenged him to follow in his father’s footsteps. I am praying that he will join our team.
We specifically targeted those under 35 for our church council. Many EA’s feel as if leadership opportunities are not available to them (link to “Young Need Not Apply”), and we wanted to make a statement that age would not be a factor in leadership selection. We communicated this vision through printed and spoken word.
As the senior leader, I have to take the chance to ask them – one on one. I want them to hear me say, “You are the future. I want to validate your leadership. I need you to step into that gap. How can I work together with you?”
What do you look for in an EA leader?
While age might not be a requirement, there are other requirements. All individuals go through the same process to enter into church leadership. Our community’s requirements include: serving and leading somewhere else in the body, active engagement maturation, volunteer time, and money to the community, and the respect of their peers.
I believe Jeff has two essential skills that enables him to recruit EAs into leadership – a passionate vision for intergenerational leadership, and the ability to voice that need across the table.
Although I am no longer an emerging adult, I was energized by Jeff’s vision of intergenerational leadership. I would also readily admit that following this interview, that if there was a day when he sat down across the table from me and asked me to join his team, I would probably say yes.
Jeff Marian is the Senior Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN. He is married to Nancy, and together are parenting three emerging adults.